A Review of the Showtime Mini-Series, Patrick Melrose, streamed on Amazon Prime Video
Patrick Melrose has a DH-Lawrencian quality to it plus a lot of “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf” quality too. So frenetic is the frenzy in the head of Patrick or the acrimony between the different characters that not for a moment you get comfortable enough to fully enjoy the cleverness, the wit and the poetry in which the dialogues are steeped. Altogether, quite marvelous! An amazing series.
Tragedy hovers like a miasma throughout. At times, emboldened, it even confronts you. You stay in a state of dread; will it precipitate now? And a few minutes later again, will it now? Or has the author planned to bring it down upon you in one cruel massive blow, his grand denouement, his coup de grace?
Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is extraordinary. It forced me to revise my appraisal of him as an actor. The torment he goes through in his drug-fueled episodes and as he tries to shake off his drug habits is depicted disturbingly accurately. The scenes made vivid, not just by tour de force performance by Cumberbatch, but also by superlative direction and cinematography.
For a good part of the series, I thought of Melrose, played by Cumberbatch, as a weakling, a rich kid, who had veered into his addictions at some stage in his life and much as his pain was, I didn’t feel great sympathy for him. He seemed even weaker for his not being able to shake off the habits. It is only much later in the series that you discover how deep his trauma was. Suddenly, I felt guilty for having judged him too harshly.
That said, the number of people in that stratospheric circle of British society in that era, who seem to be perpetually hateful, probably only because they are bored out of their brains — malice as a remedy for ennui — is a bit unpleasant. Nearly every adult is cruel, except Johnny, Patrick’s loyal friend.
It is only in fictional stories that all threads are connected, there is a trajectory we keep returning to, no matter how far we stray from time to time. There is a well-roundedness to them. Not so in real life, or autobiographical and semi-autobiographical accounts. As richly crafted the series is, it leaves you with the same feeling, being left hanging, a bit unfulfilled, as it winds towards its end.